Sioux tribes refuse to take down coronavirus checkpoints after GOP governor threatens legal action
Kristi Noem (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In South Dakota, Sioux tribes have set up highway checkpoints in the hope of preventing the spread of coronavirus on their reservations — and Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has demanded that the checkpoints be removed. But Sioux leaders are fighting back.

In a letter on Sunday, May 10, Maggie Seidel (Noem’s policy director), told members of the Oglala Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, “The checkpoints on state and US highways are not legal, and if they don’t come down, the state will take the matter to federal court.” But Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier is not backing down.

Frazier told CNN, “We want to ensure that people coming from ‘hot spots’ or highly infected areas, we ask them to go around our land…. With the lack of resources we have medically, this is our best tool we have right now to try to prevent (the spread of COVID-19).”

In her letter, Seidel asserted that it is “unlawful to interrupt the flow of traffic on these roads.” But Frazier has maintained that his top priority is “protecting the lives of our people and those that live on this reservation.”

MSNBC’s Joy Reid clearly sided with Frazier’s position when he appeared on her show, “AM Joy,” on May 10 — asserting that Noem was endangering the lives of Native Americans by interfering with the checkpoints. Frazier told Reid, “We have every legal right to do what we’re doing. In the past history, and time after time, the lack of adequate health care for our people — we just don’t really have the resources to combat this virus once it gets into our lands. Right now, the main tool we have at this point is prevention.”